GIRDWOOD, Alaska — The Arctic is melting.
And satellite data officially released today confirms that Arctic sea ice hit a record low this month, tracking below the previous record low which was set in 2007.
And it is not over. The ice will continue melting well into September, according to scientists from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center.
And amid the great thaw, a titanic struggle for power and influence has pushed its way to the surface. This battle at the top of the world is unleashing peril for a delicate environment and the way of life for the indigenous people who live here, but it is also unlocking opportunity for exploration of vast untapped mineral resources. Hundreds of billions of dollars are at stake.
The eight nations that make up the Arctic Council face enormous challenges in balancing an environmental catastrophe caused by global warming against a huge rush by petroleum companies to lay claim to the wealth of resrouces.
The oil industy believes this mother lode of oil and gas (the Arctic holds 10 percent of the world’s untapped oil and 30 percent of its natural gas) can now be extracted and brought to market through shipping lanes that, due to the melt, are reliably passable for the first time in history.
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I have just landed here in Alaska for my first trip ever to the Arctic, where I will begin a journey of inquiry about how the eight nations of the Arctic Circle — the US, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Greeland, Iceland, Norway and Finland — are putting their heads together to solve a fateful geo-political puzzle.
It’s just a first step in a commitment by GlobalPost to cover this sprawling, complex story as best we can in the coming years. Some economists make a convincing argument that the Arctic is the world’s last emerging economy.
Clearly, we need to be up here telling the story.
On this first leg of the trip, we are in Girdwood, Alaska to report on the Arctic Imperative Summit, a three-day conference which is pulling together industry leaders in oil and shipping, environmental activists, advocates for the rights of the indigenous, scientists as well as diplomatic and political figures.
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We are part of a multimedia partnership that joins GlobalPost with the Alaska Dispatch, an online news organization based in Anchorage, and ‘Living on Earth,’ a Public Radio International program focused on the environment, as well as independent photographers and video producers.
We are partnering as well with the Edward R. Murrow Center of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University to work together to provide insight and understanding on the many issues that lie ahead in the treacherous, abundant and icy waters of the Arctic Ocean.
I will be posting to GroundTruth from the Arctic throughout this journey and will try to keep you informed of our progress as we set out to find the untold stories of the Arctic that will eventually come together as a GlobalPost Special Report.